Mar 242017
 

The neighbouring village had a temporary stoplight for a few weeks as road crews did some work on the bank of the river. Seeing as how the village is a sleepy, stop-signs-only kind of place, the change—I could get caught by a red light! Grrrr!—felt big time and sophisticated, especially since the light wasn’t around long enough to actually become annoying.

Stopped one day last week on my way home, I stared out over the fields rather than at the river. My mind was wandering around elsewhere, and so I only realized how beautiful the scene was as the signal flipped to green. There were cars behind me, but I grabbed my phone and snapped a quick pic before taking off.

And no one honked.

 March 24, 2017  Moments Tagged with:
Mar 232017
 

I don’t like crime fiction. I knew this, and this book—which is as weird to me as The Sound of Music was to a young David Lynch1—confirms it.

I mean it’s great in a tough guy and dames kind of way. And if that’s your thing, cool.

I just don’t care.

At all.

 March 23, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with:
Mar 222017
 

According to cliché, there’s no “I” in team. There is however an “i” in “poise” and that “I”—let’s risk pretension and call it an eye—makes a “pose” something admirable and beautiful.

Tom Ford’s second film is magnificent and moving. It offers a cool and expansive but also a carefully self-conscious regard upon popular and art spectatorships.

I loved this movie and truly don’t understand what (other than bile) could have kept it from being a darling of the award season alongside the equally ambitious but very different (because sincere) Moonlight.

…maybe that was the problem: this is a personal movie about “the personal” but without ostentatious sincerity.

Exhibit A: this is how Tom Ford dressed for work:

 March 22, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with:
Mar 222017
 

Iron Fist was a comic character I loved when I was a kid even though he was marginal and even if I didn’t have many issues with him in them. The issue where he was killed (back when people died in comics and stayed dead) completely upset me. So I have some bias toward buy-in when it comes to the Netflix series.

Oddly though, I’m not feeling it, which means that, of the five seasons of television springing from Netflix’s and Marvel’s collaboration I’ve liked only Jessica Jones. That’s not a great record. (And I’ve really not liked Daredevil.)

I’m not done with (and not binging) Iron Fist though so maybe things will turn around. For now I just want to note for future reference that the thing that drives me crazy with the series so far is the sense that Danny Rand isn’t so much a character as he is a mash-up of various possiblities of how to imagine the character.

Contradictory responses and desires are one way to generate the illusion of depth and complexity. But here, the variations in character traits read as confusion because they so often manifest at moments when the shift enables a plot development. So Danny’s naive but menacing when he needs to be misunderstood enough to be confined to a mental hospital, but he’s controlled and cagey when he needs to suddenly have money and cultivate allies. And the difference between the two feel less like personae adopted by a complex character than alternative versions of the character, each appearing when necessary to advance the plot.

This interaction between plotting and character development makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of it so directly before watching the initial episodes of this show.

So maybe more to come about the series…

 March 22, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 182017
 

The Beav: “C’est n’importe quoi…”

Me: “Yep”

I’m not at all sure what the appeal of this story is supposed to be. What pleasure does it think it offers? To my eye, it’s just carefully shot wretchedness from start to finish.

And speaking of shots, that last one? Leonardo is no Jean Seberg.

(Yes, I’ve clearly found this movie extremely annoying.)

Mar 142017
 

Oddly boring and ponderous movie. Yet its style—the color, the editing, the script—is all over the map. Everything but Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s performance feels one misstep shy of out of control and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour (2014) is the better film by orders of magnitude.

I miss the Oliver Stone of Natural Born Killers. Nothing he’s done except JFK has ever come close to its level of lucid insanity. And nothing he’s done—nothing at all—comes close to the earned confidence of its anarchic beauty.

 March 14, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 082017
 

When first writing about Hell or High Water, I skirted talking politics except for an oblique reference to Trump’s supporters, but the movie wears politics like a badge. Billboards and graffiti announce the horrors of debt like a drumbeat through the first hour of the film. Characters ruminate over the situation in conversation. The point is clear. Jobs are gone in small-town America. The financial crisis has pushed families to the brink of poverty and is tearing them apart in the process. Smelling blood, the banks, mad with greed and shameless despite having caused the financial meltdown, have rushed in to snatch people’s homes and land. Losing these, the families lose the last of their hope.

The film’s solution to the characters’ economic problems is simple: if people could only get out from under the thumb of the banks, if the debt that is crushing them were wiped away, they could fend for themselves. This libertarian world view is perfectly suited to the western as a genre, and the film plays out its story in these terms. The brothers—talented, industrious, and clever enough to accomplish wonders if given a chance—rob the bank swindling their family out of their ranch and pay off their debt to that bank with the money they steal. Their debt paid, they live off the fat of their land. (Well, it’s oil, “Texas T”, not fat, but same difference.)

Unsurprisingly, the film insists upon the morality of the brother’s actions. They may be violent, but that violence counts for little: one brother is a bit crazy and has been ruined by childhood abuse and prison; the other doesn’t want the violence even if he points a gun around. Likewise, their string of robberies is defined as somehow not quite theft: they steal only what they need to be free from the bank’s clutches. At one point, they share a bit of it with a single mom struggling to pay rent, but they don’t waste it on prostitutes, and they aren’t looking to accumulate personal wealth. In other words, they are not really thieves. They are doing what they have to do to save their family and to give their kids a chance at the American Dream.

The western is a genre perfectly suited for this clannish, libertarian view of the world, and this film is as pure a western as I’ve seen in a long time. The sheriff even rustles up a posse at the end. And so, despite all the talk in interviews and reviews about the interesting moral ambiguity of the film, I don’t buy it. The moral stakes of this film are generic and clear: eastern interests and their local agents are ruining families and the law can’t solve the problem. So a virtuous gunslinger has to step in and do what he can, and the local law-man understands, whatever his office compels him to say or do. This is Pale Rider/Liberty Valance 101.

The problem with all of this is that however satisfying the idea of the solitary man taking matters into his own hands and doing what needs to be done is (and it’s very satisfying, especially when filmed as well as it is here), the problems these characters face are bigger than a bank loan, and their solution is more complex than paying it back.

Part of the film’s achievement is that it seems to know this on some level. The oil found lying under the family ranch waiting like a miracle to make the protagonist’s sons wealthy and secure is a lucky break. The fact that it is luck highlights the fact that the ranch itself is just fields of grass too dry to raise cattle. The protagonists aren’t robbing banks to save a family farm. They’re robbing them to hold onto a winning lottery ticket.

The early presentation of the mother’s deathbed likewise undercuts the political fantasy. Her colon cancer gave the the bank an opening to swoop in and gives emotional grounding to the sons’ efforts to save her land. But it’s fair to ask if paying off a reverse mortgage offers a reasonable solution to the problem of falling sick? Obviously it does not.

The film flatters viewers by suggesting they’d be fine if left alone, but in reality cowboy libertarianism encourages them to ignore (and perpetuate) their misery by escaping to a world in which real solutions—universal healthcare, improved infrastructure, human-scale agricultural practices—don’t exit and would appear horrific if they did.

Generic Hollywood fictions are entertainments. They have few political obligations and when they address the political, their “politics” will often be risible. By motivating character with economic frustrations and reaching aesthetically toward “seriousness,” Hell or High Water invites consideration of the political underpinnings of the western. These generic politics are a dream and are beautiful, but if you look carefully through the cracks in this film, you can also see they are exactly the opposite of a way forward.

 March 8, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 062017
 

The show has been changing bit by bit each season, and at this point it’s become something completely different from what I first started watching.

Stylistically this season draws on steampunk and medicalized horror. As an aesthetic, the steampunk worked and, when combined with a cleverly deployed flickering camera effect, was genuinely creepy. The horror element turned around medical experiments being performed on various kids by reckless pseudo-scientists bent on “improving” their subjects. The kids don’t understand and are often unaware of what is being done to them, and the resulting story, which I think gestures toward contemporary debates about the medicalization of youthful behaviour, was disturbing and, at times, unpleasant.

Thematically the show is preoccupied for a long stretch with the challenges (and attendant dangers!) of literacy. The scary center of the core plot is a book. Anyone who reads it has their mind opened to reality. Because reality is so different from what the young readers think it is, the change they experience makes them feel nuts. This is an unbelievably perfect allegory of the risk students accept when doing homework.

The anxieties resulting from the medical and educational plot lines often play out in the school’s library, which appears as an important setting for the first time this season. Members of the pack keep finding themselves there, and nothing good ever happens when they do. It’s just violence, mayhem and death.

 March 6, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,
Feb 282017
 

I first read Call Me by Your Name as I flew to Rome in December 2009 to work on a translation for a friend. I was staying in an apartment a couple blocks from the Coliseum, the Forum wasn’t much further away, and I was excited. The work was intense though, and for three weeks I was indoors all day every day, going out only for coffee and sandwiches, both taken standing up in nearby cafes in the mid-afternoon. My Rome, like Elio’s, was the nighttime city we walked through to go to restaurants and bars.

The book has been on my mind again recently because Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, The Big Splash) has filmed a soon to be released adaptation that I’m eager to see. So when an old friend asked for some book recommendations, I suggested it to him. Once I had, I decided I wanted to go back and read it again myself.

Reading it was, thankfully, less overwhelming than it was the first time. I knew what I was in for, which meant I wasn’t dying inside every few pages. Yet the power of the book was undiminished. Aciman writes a story of desire that is narrated in terms of desire. Chronology is indistinct but the experience of time is palpable. Identity is indistinct and yet every detail of every scene testifies to the presence of a person.

What was most astounding to me though was the extent to which the various wild and roaming feelings sparked by and constituting desire and love are represented clearly and authentically by the narration. In my own memory of being young and in love, I retain my feelings whole. Aciman remembers the pieces constituting that whole and brings them back to life for me as I read. It’s intoxicating stuff.

 February 28, 2017  Book Logs Tagged with: , ,